Most people lock their doors, which helps them keep safe. But what if you could trust everyone? There used to be a time in America when people didn’t need to lock their doors. Parents didn’t have to drive their kids to school for fear of kidnapping. Young women could safely go out alone in the evening without being afraid.
Much of that changed from the 1960s and onward. New York City was so full of crime that it inspired many of the darkest Batman stories; the superhero lives in Gotham City, which in the 1970s took on a dark and gritty tone. The recent Joker movie was filmed in the worst parts of Jersey City, in an example of art imitating life. Today, the U.S. is divided over law and order – many are pushing to get rid of police due to cases of brutality, with others worried that defunding the police will only lead to more crime and violence on the streets.
In Gotham City, no one can trust anyone else. Are these just normal features of life, or a sign of something wrong in America today? Perhaps taking a look halfway across the world will give us an interesting comparison.
Singapore is a small South-East Asian city-state of five million people. It is so safe that almost no serious crime occurs. Even minor offenses like shoplifting and bicycle theft are rare.
Since Singapore is so safe, restaurants often do not lock up their outdoor chairs and tables. They are not afraid of vandalism or thieves. They don’t have to hire security to protect gated communities and commercial centers. It is common for children to walk alone to school.
The widespread trust in strangers seen in Singapore is not a natural part of South-East Asian culture. The region is full of ethnic conflicts, and Singapore itself was created from a civil war in Malaysia in 1965.
Singapore started with a low-trust society, like in many American inner cities. The government understood that to attract investors and create jobs, it needed to get rid of corruption and crime. Over many decades, Singapore has cracked down hard on crime. The result is what we see today: one of the safest countries in the world.
In the U.S., illegal immigration is a concern for many, and the George Floyd protests have been a stark reminder of the racial divisions perceived in American law enforcement. How does Singapore compare?
Singaporeans aren’t just less afraid of crime and strangers; they are also less scared of immigrants and people of other races. The reason is that Singapore has been strict about who can immigrate. Only people who pay for their stay are allowed into the country. There is zero tolerance for crime and civil disorder.
For instance, a group of Britons who grossly violated the Coronavirus rules for social distancing were fined $6,500 each. They were also banned from working in Singapore. It might seem like a harsh reaction, but the result is that Singaporeans do not learn to resent foreigners. They know that whenever they meet an immigrant on the street, they can trust him. A positive side effect of creating a society where people can trust each other is less racism.
Can the U.S. learn from Singapore? Is the answer less law enforcement, or more?